Beauty Clinic: I need an SPF for my eyes

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Q. I am looking for a good sun protection product for the area around my sensitive eyes. I don't always want to wear sunglasses on duller days but am aware that there can still be damaging UV rays.

A. This is a really important topic. ‘The eyelids are often an overlooked part of the body when it comes to sunscreen application,’ according to consultant dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto, spokeswoman for the British Dermalogical Association.

Consultant ophthalmologist Professor Charles Clark echoes this and also highlights the importance of protecting your ears too.  ‘Skin over the external ear is very thin and very susceptible to UV damage. This is a frequent but little recognised area of sunburn.

Because of the potential for irritation around the sensitive eye area and also the possibility of the product travelling into the eye, Dr. Mahto recommends using a sunscreen with a physical UV barrier, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, rather than a formula based on synthetic chemicals. ‘Physical sunscreens are relatively inert so less likely to cause irritation,’ she says.

Interestingly, in February this year, the American FDA proposed sunscreen regulation changes, highlighting the lack of safety information for 12 chemicals commonly used in sunscreen. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, however, are ‘proposed as safe and effective’. The FDA proposed that two other synthetic chemicals, aminobenzoic acid (known as PABA) and trolamine salicylate, are not safe for sunscreen use.

The FDA emphasised that people should still use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF15 or higher. Professor Clark recommends using an SPF30. SkinCeuticals Mineral Eye Defense SPF30/£28 for 10ml ticks all the boxes and is Dr Mahto’s personal choice.

Just a word on sunglasses. ‘The single most important fact is that sunglasses must be polarised, which means the light can only enter in a straight line at a single angle,’ explains Professor Clark. ‘The cost of the polarised lenses is irrelevant; the cheapest are just as effective as the most effective,’ he adds.

While sunglasses are not really necessary on dull days, Professor Clark says that people with blue eyes experience much more glare than brown eyes, due to the iris being thinner. ‘So those individuals will need to wear polarised lenses even when there is less sun exposure.’ While UV rays can cause cataracts at high UV exposure if eyes are unprotected, there is no definite evidence of cataracts at moderate exposure, he says.

We are keen on wearing sunglasses whenever there is a gleam of sunlight as they help prevent us squinting against the glare and frowning – which causes lines! Also sunglasses are very helpful at preventing pollutants getting into peepers.

Finally, Professor Clark adds that dryness in eyes can be exacerbated by heat from the sun. Anyone who suffers from this condition should treat their eyes with regular applications of Viscotears Liquid Gel Sterile Eye Drops/£6 for 10 ml. This will compensate for the lack of the lipid component of the tear film, which is the underlying cause of dry eyes.